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(UPDATE, 5 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Thursday said it is investigating reports that its men were harassed by Chinese fighter jets in the disputed Spratly Islands at the South China Sea.
AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban told a forum hosted by the Philippine Information Agency that Chinese Mig-29 fighter jets were reportedly spotted near the boundary of Philippine waters last week.
He said he was unsure if this was a case of "harassment" by Chinese forces.
The reports said that Chinese Mig-29 “Fulcrum” fighter jets entered Philippine air space and threatened two Air Force reconnaissance planes patrolling the country’s territorial claims in the Spratlys on the South China Sea.
“We are validating reports pertinent to that…In the Armed Forces we just do the mandate that’s given to us,” Oban said after the forum, stressing that that the military did not treat the matter as “bullying” against China.
“We don’t look at it that way,” he added.
Nevertheless, Oban said this report will be discussed during the official visit of the Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie on Monday. Liang will be having a "private meeting" with Oban and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, an advisory issued by the Department of National Defense showed. The Chinese official will also make a courtesy call on President Benigno Aquino III.
Amid these reports, Oban stressed that the AFP will fulfill its mandate to protect the "territorial integrity" of Filipinos. But he said there is a need to upgrade the capabilities of the Philippine Navy to allow it to secure Philippine waters.
On Wednesday, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile advised the military to build a strong Air Force to cope with the present demand of maritime and airspace security patrol and interdiction operations.
Reliable sources in the Air Force confirmed the incident that allegedly happened three days before the arrival of the US Carrier Strike Group 1 led by its mother-ship USS Carl Vinson. The warship carried and buried at sea the body of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by US Navy SEALS nearly three weeks ago.
Two OV-10 surveillance planes were on reconnaissance mission Thursday in the Spratlys when a tandem of Mig-29 suddenly buzzed above them, the sources said.
“We’re aware of their capability buildup in all aspects: Navy, Air Force or Army. We’ve seen this particularly in technology,” Oban said.
The incident, if it actually happened, would be the second of Chinese military intrusions into Philippine territory since March when two of its patrol gunships harassed a group led by the Department of Energy (DOE) that was conducting oil exploration in the Reed Bank, one of the islands being claimed by the Philippines in the Spratlys.
The first issue has not been resolved diplomatically between the two countries but after the incident, reports said China has beef up its military presence in the area.
“As of now we need to build up capability in terms effective detection and monitoring system most particularly in the Palawan area where we have vast [airspace] and maritime resources to protect…Actually, we don’t have radars to check if they indeed intruded into our airspace; second, even if we have that capability we need interdiction but we’ve no capability to interdict or to intercept,” Oban said.
“That’s why the first in the list of our options is diplomatic protest. In due time, hopefully we can move in the direction toward territorial defense,” he added.
In recent years, the military has been a recipient of engineering equipment from the Chinese military on the basis of defense cooperation.